by Lawrence M. Schoen
Peter lost his grip on the dream, and just that quickly aliens surrounded him. He knew was dreaming, all his life he’d had a knack for dreams, not just to always tell that he was in a dream, but to control and shape his dreams as well. But for months now, and more and more frequently, he’d been losing that control, and always with the same results.
“Crap, not again!” Peter moaned as his idyllic tropical island dissolved under his feet. Instead he stood in a poorly lit room, amidst half a dozen supine figures sprawled upon low stone platforms. They looked like sacrificial offerings and none were human. Peter swallowed hard, and focusing on restoring the original dream. Nothing changed. He didn’t have control.
Peter had spent the afternoon hauling boxes, helping his friend Josh move into a new dorm at Penn. It had been midnight before he dragged himself upstairs to his tiny apartment above the Meyerson’s garage. When he’d collapsed onto his bed, sleep had come instantly. His subconscious had served up the relaxing island scene complete with susurrating waves and girls in bikinis. Now that had been replaced by an alien room, part bedchamber, part parlor. The six sleeping bodies were Carlysle.
They slept like humans, though their sagging bodies appeared even more limp than usual. Peter roamed among the platforms. The Carlysle resembled wizened, withered humans. The pattern of lines and wrinkles, every crevice and fold, made each Carlysle unique. Peter had never seen any of these six before. And since his uncontrolled dreams had started, he’d seen quite a few of them.
So he waited. Peter always had to wait, sometimes for hours. He couldn’t simply ‘fast–forward’ like in his own dreams. These alien dreams were the closest Peter had ever come to the helpless dream experiences of other people.
This one followed the same pattern as the others. He always appeared in a room full of snoring Carlysle. The sleeping made sense though; anyone with a television knew that the Carlysle spent as much time asleep as awake. Sleep was just another variety of consciousness to them, equally valid as the waking world. And he knew that was how most people’s dreams worked; the subconscious mind grabbed bits and pieces from conscious memory, and put the pieces together. So these dreams always started with sleeping Carlysle, just like the six laying around him now. Until one or more of them got around to waking up.
As if on cue, one of the Carlysle opened its eyes. It sat up, gestured wildly, and began a running commentary in the unintelligible clicky speech of its kind. Peter only nodded. They all did this; he had been through it a dozen times. The players might be different, but the dreams always followed the same script. Any moment now the Carlysle would gesture him toward an exit, or else awaken some of the others and then they’d team up to herd him in the desired direction. They never touched him though, and Peter was grateful for that. Usually he let them usher him outside, just to get a look at his surroundings. A few times he had refused to budge, indulging a rare petulance and the perverse enjoyment he felt at their increasing agitation and more frantic gestures. It was all pretty pointless anyway; they were just dreams. Peter knew he’d wake up, sooner or later. He lacked full control in these alien dreams, couldn’t change anything here, but he still dictated his own actions. Why shouldn’t he do as he pleased?
But this time the dream took a different turn.
Instead of gesturing wildly or waking any of the other sleepers, this Carlysle smiled at him. It was a nervous, widening of the mouth, a bit twitchy, but definitely a smile. Peter didn’t like it at all; none of them had ever smiled before. The alien continued grinning, and then reached inside its robe and withdrew a slender wafer of pale blue ceramic, ridged with bars and slivers of a darker blue running along its length. The alien stroked a few of the bars and a soft voice — a human voice! — emerged from the wafer in the rounded tones of the British received pronunciation. “Do not be alarmed. Please access a telephone and dial 1-202-647-4000 in the United States of America. Request to speak with Agent Yampell.”
Peter gasped with astonishment. The Carlysle holding the wafer looked pleased at the reaction. The wafer fell silent, and then began again in what sounded like Spanish. And then Peter woke up.
He opened his eyes and stared at the ceiling. He was in bed, his bed, he was home. The pounding of his heart filled his ears. After months of inexplicable, unnerving, and unvarying dreams of the Carlysle, Peter felt he had just crossed some kind of threshold. He reached for the pen and notepad on the nightstand, and scribbled the name and phone number before they faded from memory. As he set the pen down all the anxiety rushed out, replaced by a new exhaustion, as if he’d just run a marathon. He rolled over and went back to sleep. In seconds he was back on his island, back in control.
The aliens had first been noticed by an astronomer. Gregory Carlysle detected their generational vessel two years earlier, shortly after it entered the solar plane. The ship began an eleven month deceleration, leisurely drifting closer to Earth, and commenced an exchange of electromagnetic signals. More simply, it announced its approach and opened a dialogue in English. They had been traveling for centuries, their homeworld far far across the galaxy, generations removed. Their own name for themselves was full of clicking sounds. For simplicity they had been referred to on Earth as “the Carlysle aliens” and eventually just “The Carlysle.” Their delegation had been on Earth for thirteen months.
In the morning, Peter awoke refreshed. The dream of the alien with the wafer was still vivid in his mind. He picked up the pad by the bed, and stared at the phone number. It had a D.C. area code. Peter toyed with the notion of calling and immediately dismissed it. Still, the idea gnawed at him. All through breakfast it kept returning. Dreams, he knew, were messages from the subconscious. The number must mean something to him, else why would it show up in his dream? And the name wasn’t exactly a common one; surely it represented something too. Who had his subconscious mind cast in the role of Agent Yampell?
Peter sipped his second cup of coffee and gazed out the window and down the driveway to the morning traffic on the street beyond. Oh why not? he thought. He picked up the phone and punched the numbers before he could lose his nerve. It rang twice.
“Department of State, may I help you?”
“Department of State. Hello? May I help you? Hello?”
“Uh, hello. Yes, uh, could I… I mean, may I speak with… Agent Yampell? Please?”
“Please hold while I connect you.” There was a click on the line; Peter was on hold. Alarms rang in his brain, police sirens, air raid warnings, hurricane alerts, red alert klaxons of all description. Hang up the phone, do it now! You’re being stupid. It was just a dream. Walk away, now before…
“This is Agent Yampell. Whom am I speaking with?”
Last chance to make an excuse. Silence. Last chance, whispered Peter’s suddenly active conscience. Make an excuse, claim a wrong number, say you asked for Agent “Campbell,” anything…
“Peter. Peter Greene.”
“Yes, Mr. Greene, how may I help you?” Agent Yampell sounded calm, friendly. I must be his first whacko of the morning, Peter thought.
“Well, this is going to sound kind of strange… I mean, it certainly seems that way to me, but um, it’s one of those things that you know you’ll always wonder about if you don’t do it, you know what I mean?”
“Exactly what are you trying to say, Mr. Greene?” Agent Yampell had already begun to sound less friendly.
“Right. Okay, I was told to call. I was, um, given your name, told to ask for you specifically.”
“Who told you to call me, Mr. Greene? When did you receive these instructions?” He didn’t sound quite as calm any more either.
“I don’t know who it was… not his name, its name I mean. It was a Carlysle. It happened last night… while I was asleep, in a dream,” Peter finished lamely, painfully aware of how foolish he sounded.
There was a silence on the line. Peter began to suspect that Agent Yampell had hung up in disgust.
“Mr. Greene? This is very important. I’d like you to start at the beginning and describe for me as much of your dream as you can recall, with as much detail as you can manage. I’ll be taping this call. Take your time, tell it at your own pace.”
Peter recounted the dream. Now and then as he spoke the other man interrupted, seeking to clarify some detail. He had almost reached the part where the Carlysle had taken the blue wafer from its robe when something caught his attention. Or rather, the lack of something; out on the street the cars had stopped driving by. The sounds of the commuter traffic that normally floated up the driveway at this time of the morning had ceased. There was no traffic at all.
Peter glanced at his watch; there should still have been a good twenty minutes of rush hour dregs, a slow parade of commuters passing in front of the Meyersons’ home. Instead, the tiny slice of the street his view allowed was barren, free of all cars. An abrupt movement at the edge of the driveway caught his eye; a man darted to the Meyersons’ door. He carried a gun. Another man, and then another, took up support positions along the driveway, shielded from the door’s view but visible to Peter from his vantage above the garage. They wore identical dark suits and sunglasses.
“Mr. Greene? Mr. Greene, are you there?” Agent Yampell’s voice was urgent but Peter ignored it. He watched as Kevin Meyerson answered the door in bathrobe and slippers, only to be spun about and pinned to the jam as the men in suits flashed badges and patted him down. Seconds later a black sedan entered the driveway. Kevin Meyerson, orthodontist, husband, and father of two, was handcuffed and stuffed into the backseat. One of the suits climbed into the passenger’s side in front, the others went back down the driveway to the street, vanishing. A moment later the car drove off. Almost immediately the morning’s traffic resumed.
The phone continued to call his name. Peter stared at the receiver, then back out the window. Life was bizarre enough without believing in coincidences. He hung up, grabbed his backpack and went down the backstairs, two at a time. He hopped the short fence to the alley and headed to school.
“You failed to obtain him?”
The words, phrased like a statement with an innocent questioning intonation, landed with the force of an accusation, as the speaker had intended. A Carlysle of indeterminate age dressed in a puce leisure suit belted with a wide swath of vinyl waited expectantly. Agent Yampell’s reply took the form of a noncommittal grunt. He set down his phone, stroked his beard anxiously, and put into words what the alien had already read on his face.
“Sloppy work with the phone trace. They tracked the site, not the listing. There are two phone lines registered at that address in Philadelphia; the primary line is registered to a Kevin Meyerson, who was picked up successfully and without mishap. Unfortunately, Mr. Meyerson has a one room apartment above his garage which he rents out to college students, and the call came from that phone. So, no, Dr. Nga’tok, we don’t have him yet, but we do have a physical description from Meyerson. Our Mr. Greene is apparently twenty years old, six feet tall, dark hair, spindly build. He’s a university student, and we’ve pulled his course schedule. My field agents are already en route to his first class of the day. They’ll pick him up there. It shouldn’t be long.”
“This is not encouraging,” Nga’tok sighed, the lilt of innocence fading from his tone. “You surely had communicated his name to the agents involved. Did they not ask this Kevin Meyerson to identify himself?”
Agent Yampell frowned. The effect produced furrows in his forehead and brought his eyebrows together in a single bushy line above his eyes. “Apparently Meyerson has both a speech impediment and at least a minor drinking problem. He was a bit incoherent after a few too many highballs last night and could only manage to stutter and repeat Mr. Greene’s name to the agents when they first questioned him.”
Dr. Nga’tok nodded. He gazed back at Yampell through steepled fingers, his alien wattle rippling. “I see. Agent Yampell, please do not underestimate the importance of Peter Greene to my people. If he is indeed an Opener, this makes him the most valuable person on your world.”
“If he’s an Opener. You’ve admitted it could all be a fluke.” Yampell took a deep, calming breath. “But I don’t mind spinning my department’s wheels on a chance, not if he’s the real thing. I have my men out looking for him now, and I have every confidence we’ll have him in custody before the day is out.”
“Just so. And when we do, I believe we will discover he is genuine.” Dr. Nga’tok paused, wondering how much to reveal, how much to hold back. “There have been too many sightings for random chance or rare aberration. And he brought back the phone number and contacted you. You will see; he is real.
“The potential benefits to both our peoples, if humans can learn to traverse the Dreaming, is incalculable. I wish I could effectively express the significance of this to you. There has not been an Opener to the Carlysle in more than three thousand years. It is not merely a scientific breakthrough, it is a cultural and historical milestone as well. I am sure you can understand my eagerness to meet such a person.”
Forty minutes and two buses later Peter arrived on the Penn campus. It wasn’t his school. Peter attended classes at nearby Temple University, but Penn had the best library in the city and he needed information. His classes at Temple could wait, learning more about the aliens wouldn’t.
The Carlysle in Peter’s dreams were essentially the same as he’d seen in the news. Morphologically they appeared pretty human: two arms, two legs, a torso, a head. Differences existed; the Carlysle had no hair at all, and their skin lacked all pigment. And they looked old. The Carlysle were, without exception, a mass of wrinkles, as if they had half again as much skin as they needed. It hung from their frames in great folds, creating the impression that every Carlysle had once been fantastically obese and overnight lost three hundred pounds.
But more than just the wrinkles, their mannerisms were old. They seemed to plan and carefully execute every movement with deliberate slowness. Peter recalled his first impression from television, watching the Carlysle delegation address the U.N. last year. It reminded him of watching his ninety-three-year-old grandfather trying to make a point. Slow and ponderous, with no guarantee that the old man’s insight would be worth the wait. In Peter’s experience his grandfather’s efforts were as likely to yield drivel as wisdom. Admittedly, the Carlysle were faring a bit better. They had immediately begun sharing some of their technology, already promising to eradicate cancer within the next few years, and then to make a real dent in world hunger. Considering the benefits involved, no one much minded letting the Carlysle take their time.
Peter learned little more in the library. A few medical reports with articles about breakthroughs courtesy of Carlysle pharmacology, and some mathematics journals that were completely beyond him. Most of his search had turned up banal commentaries or inane fashion reports. In his dreams the Carlysle were always clothed in loose–fitting pastel caftans or robes that ended just below what passed for their knees. The garments matched nothing from any of the news footage Peter had seen. The first videos of the Carlysle showed them dressed in form–fitting coveralls, the colors still muted but warmer. Weeks later, when the Carlysle established a delegation on Earth, they adopted human apparel, favoring brightly colored polyester leisure suits, white loafers, and matching wide, white, vinyl belts. It made a funny sort of sense, and the “official” interpretation from the State Department was that the delegates were doing their best to “blend in with the locals.”
Peter spent most of the day searching the library’s records. There had to be some explanation, both to account for the change in his dream — an alien with a Washington phone number — and the arrest of Mr. Meyerson while he was talking with Agent Yampell. One thing was certain, he didn’t want to go home. His friend Josh went to Penn, and his dorm was just across campus. He could probably stay there, at least for a night. Maybe by tomorrow he would come up with a better plan.
Nga-<click>, mispronounced “Nga’tok” by American humans like Yampell, ranking psyche scryer of his vessel’s current generation, lay asleep in the back of a luxury van traveling the interstate between Washington, D.C. and Philadephia. The title Agent Yampell had used to address him, like the man’s pronunciation of his name, missed the target but would serve. Nga-<click> was not so much a psychologist, in the human clinical sense of the word. More accurately, he was a technician, trained to understand and maintain the proper flow and balance between the two distinct forms of Carlysle consciousness. To Yampell, this made him an expert on the Dreaming, illustrating yet another shortcoming of human precision. Nga-<click> considered himself an expert only in the relative sense. He was the best Carlysle at hand, the most qualified to meet with the humans and negotiate for the Opener, but the real experts awaited him halfway around the galaxy, back on the Carlysle homeworld. Limted to a single form of reality, neither Yampell nor any of his colleagues could communicate with true Dreaming masters. Nga-<click> had no such constraint. While his aide sat up front with the human driver, braving the perils of human highways, Nga-<click> had entered the Dreaming to confer with his mentors.
In that other consciousness he stood on the Carlysle homeworld, on the island of Jarat in the eastern hemisphere, upon the grounds of the Academy of Mind at the heart of Novolma City. Or rather, a duplicate of that place. Nga-<click> occupied another body there, a conceptual one, built according to the physics of the Dreaming. He’d clothed that body according to the customs of the waking world, a pastel robe of the faintest lavender. Fi-<click>-naro, his mentor and friend sat with her back against the stone arch surrounding one of the city’s many fountains, watching him pace.
“Fi-ro, we are close,” Nga-<click> insisted softly, though no other dreamers were around to overhear. “There was contact! The Opener received the instructions and contacted their government.”
Fi-<click>-naro nodded calmly, her peaceful mood soothing away some of Nga-<click>’s excitement. “I know. Your Opener appeared to a stone polisher in the Cre’okt province. The Academy has recommended you for a commendation. Your insight in distributing audio wafers has succeeded, despite the odds against it. The contact confirms it. You have truly found an Opener, unexpected and unsought.”
“He has only been found to exist, Fi-ro. He has not been physically located. The humans have failed to detain him, and I fear that even if they do there will be problems. They do not truly understand his importance, only that he has value to us. Even in their ignorance they are clever enough to use him as a bargaining tool against us. They are suspicious and distrustful.”
Fi-<click>-naro waited for her former student to continue. He had left something unspoken, and it hung in the air like an uncompleted chord. When she could bear it no longer she sighed.
Nga-<click> blushed. “I fear I may have aggravated their predispositions by withholding information.”
Fi-<click>-naro said nothing. Only the Dream version of the fountain made any sound. She rose from her seat and walked away from the main cluster of buildings. Nga-<click> hurried after. They walked together for a while, the Academy dwindling behind them. Fi-<click>-naro paused as they came alongside a large tree skillfully grown and shaped to resemble several children climbing a somewhat smaller tree. She touched it with one hand, and regarded Nga-<click> thoughtfully.
“You are my most gifted student, but your knowledge of our world is only through the Dreaming. Your other world for most of your life has been a vessel, vast but contained. It may be a world, but it is not a planet. You cannot understand life as they do. Yes, they are fearful. They still battle disease and hunger and each other, as we have not done for centuries before the first Opener appeared. They strain their imaginations to conceive of life without such adversity. Then, the vessel that has been your world comes among them, offering to share our more peaceful way of life, but their history tells them that such generosity can only come with a price. So yes, they are distrustful.”
She paused to examine a flower, and breathe deeply of its fragrance. “I regret the decision to withhold the true nature of the Opener from them, but it was my decision, my friend, not yours. I saw no other choice. Let them continue to believe he will enable them to enter the Dreaming. It would certainly be simpler if they could, rather than rest all our hopes on this Opener. We have not encountered one in so long, the idea feels like a myth to us now. But he is no myth. You must find him, teach him. It is clear he does not know what he is doing.”
“I cannot find him myself,” Nga-<click> answered, “but I believe I can help him to lead me to him. And to you.”
Fi-<click>-naro stared at her student, her wrinkled face creasing even more in sudden confusion. “Explain yourself.”
“I know his name now; P’tar Gren. Humans bind much of their Dreaming energy into their self image, just as we use it to sculpt the world of the Dreaming itself. For humans, their names are as real and solid to them as this tree is to us. They define themselves not by what they are, but by who they are. When P’tar Gren enters the Dreaming he is carried here along the lines of force created by my generation, as we travel back and forth from Earth to our world. Other than his name, it is the only real thing he perceives in the Dreaming. But I have a theory. I believe he perceives the lines only subliminally, that he travels them with neither awareness nor volition. He arrives on this world randomly, capriciously even.”
“This is so,” said Fi-<click>-naro. “We have discerned no pattern to where he appears.”
“But what if you were to call to him?” said Nga-<click>. “What if hundreds within the Academy were to invoke him by name? It might anchor him. At a minimum it should draw him to you. His name would be the only thing familiar to him in the entire Dreaming. It would pull him.”
“Perhaps,” Fi-<click>-naro agreed slowly, weighing the idea carefully. “It is such an alien concept, to have no knowledge of the Dreaming. You might be correct in your hypothesis, but toward what end? He is an Opener. Though the Dreaming brings him here, he is not of the Dreaming. Those who call to him cannot instruct him when he arrives in the world; he will be awake, and they asleep. That is the precise task you were selected for. It is your place to teach him, both now and after he opens the Way. You can only visit this world in the Dreaming, your waking world is the Earth.”
“This is true,” Nga-<click> acknowledged rapidly, his excitement rising again. “But as with the wafers, you could convey a message to him. Give him the means to contact me, independently of his government. If I could speak with him, meet with him, I could begin the Opener’s instruction without interference…”
“…before the other humans can influence him.” Fi-<click>-naro finished, her eyes bright as Nga-<click>’s now. “That could work. I will awaken at once and speak with the Provost. We will have shifts of students in the Dreaming, calling his name, before this day is ended.”
“What do you mean he wasn’t in class?” Yampell was on his feet, shouting into his phone. “Were you made, Winslow? Are you some first year rookie fresh out of Quantico that a college student can spot your team?”
“No sir,” responded the voice on the other end, flat and devoid of all emotion. “He never so much as approached the building. My people were in place both inside and out. Surveillance cameras show no sign of him anywhere in the area. There’s no way he could have detected us, sir. I believe he simply cut class.”
“Cut class? That’s not an acceptable answer, Winslow. As of this morning Peter Greene became the sole focus of this operation, do you understand me? Don’t talk to me about truancy; find him. I want him by the end of the day. Is that understood?”
“Understood, sir. Winslow out.”
Yampell sighed, settling back into his chair. He punched the speed dial and waited. Three rings. Four rings. Five rings. Six rings. The caller on the other end picked up. After a moment Yampell could hear breathing, but no other sound, not yet.
“Stlok-<whirr>-ghlev-<pop>-fluk-<click> Embassy.” And a pause; one beat, two beats, three… “How may I direct your call?”
Yampell sighed again. Nga’tok had to be the swiftest talker of his people, and it had spoiled him. Christ, he thought, it takes them twenty minutes just to answer the damn phone. “Dr. Nga’tok, please. Tell him it’s Yampell.”
Yampell sat at his desk, watching his fingernails grow before the receptionist responded.
“My apologies, but Dr. Nga-<click> is not available at this time.” There was a long pause. “He is not presently on the Embassy grounds. Do you wish to leave a message?”
He simply hung up. Leaving a phone message with a Carlysle could kill half an hour. Where would the alien be? A few hours ago he had stressed the importance of locating Greene, and suddenly he was unavailable? It made no sense. They were so close. After months of tracking this proposed “Opener” why would Nga’tok vanish now? Unless…
Yampell slapped the intercom on his desk. “Janine? Put a call in to the DMV. I want the license plate of every vehicle registered to the Carlysle Embassy, and I want that data in the hands of every highway patrolman, cop, and toll booth operator between here and Philadelphia. There’s a chance that Nga’tok’s gone independent on us, and I don’t want him finding Greene before we do. And call the flight deck; I want a chopper to Philly as soon as they can warm one up.”
The van carrying Nga-<click>, his aide, and a human driver proceeded up interstate 95, passing from Delaware into Pennsylvania without complication, and blissfully unaware of the three State Department vehicles following at staggered and discrete distances. The helicopter carrying Agent Yampell had caught up just before Wilmington and now trailed behind and to the east.
Nga–<click> had awakened and traded positions with his aide. He stared out the window, absently studying the patterns of cars on the interstate. Everything rested in Fi-<click>-naro’s hands. If Peter Green’s aimless travels could be guided and lured by the sound of his name in the Dreaming, the possibility of finding and contacting the Opener would be greatly enhanced. But that possibility couldn’t manifest until Peter Green went to sleep again, and several hours of daylight yet remained. Nga-<click> instructed the driver to pull in at the final rest stop prior to the Pennsylvania border. They would wait for darkness and sleep. Then he would enter the Dreaming again and learn if he was right. Peter Green existed somewhere within Philadelphia; until Nga-<click> learned more specifically where to find him, parking at a highway rest stop just south of the city seemed about as inconspicuous as a van of aliens was likely to get.
He leaned back in his seat and wondered how much Yampell had guessed yet. Nga-<click> savored the irony; so much seemed to depend on the inefficiency of the man’s field operatives. If they could be counted upon to perform as they had earlier in the day then all would be well. With a wistful sigh Nga-<click> gazed out the window, paying no notice to the helicopter that seemed to float in the van’s passenger–side mirror.
Josh’s dorm was small, smaller than it needed to be as a result of the clutter of unpacked cardboard boxes and plastic milk crates they had moved there the day before. Josh didn’t mind having an unannounced crash–guest, not once Peter offered to spring for a couple of hoagies and a six pack of brew. Over the meal Peter explained the strange events of the morning and the bizarre dream of the previous night. In the glow of a few beers and a full belly it didn’t seem quite so sinister.
After a quick clean up, Josh took off for an all night chem lab on the other side of campus. Peter made himself comfortable in his friend’s sleeping bag on a hastily cleared bit of floor. He yawned, worn out by the day’s strange events, and made sleepier still by the sandwiches and beer. Peter closed his eyes and soon after drifted off to sleep.
Almost at once he heard voices. Dozens, maybe hundreds, all calling his name. They said it with a strange accent, chanted it really. Peter looked around and found himself standing on the stage of some kind of amphitheater. Shallow arcs of polished stone benches rose up in a semicircle. Sleeping Carlysle, hundreds of them, lay sprawled across the benches. Peter suppressed a shudder. He had never seen so many at once. He turned first one way and then the other, trying to make a quick tally of the sleepers. It was deathly quiet, and he realized that the voices calling his name had stopped. He hadn’t heard them at all since he became aware of the amphitheater.
Peter turned at the sound, lifting his gaze to follow it. At the topmost arc of benches stood a Carlysle, wide awake and glaring down at him. Slowly, it began stepping down to the stage.
“On behalf of all those whom you call Carlysle, I welcome you to our homeworld.” It stopped at the edge of the stage, returning his watchful stare. It spoke English with a pronounced New England dialect, its lilting voice sounding almost feminine. “I am Fi-<click>-naro. I have much to tell you, and too little time in which to do it. You are the Opener, P’tar Gren, and this is not a dream.”
Peter shook his head, wishing he could wake up. His heart pounded. He couldn’t breathe. An alien stood directly in front of him, insisting he was awake and on an alien world. Despite the open surroundings of the stage, everything seemed to be pressing in on him. The amphitheater spun, rows of arcing stone benches and their sleeping occupants swam all around him; Peter clutched his head and toppled to his knees. The Carlysle rushed forward, faster than he’d ever seen one move. It caught him; wrinkled hands grasped each of his shoulders and steadied him. At its touch his vertigo vanished. He looked up into its face, the sagging valleys and crevices of flesh that mirrored his fear, and saw eyes moist with concern.
“I don’t understand,” he whispered, surprised at the hoarseness of his voice.
“There is little time, P’tar Gren.” Fi-<click>-naro repeated. “Listen to me, this is important. Here on this world you are awake. This is our waking world. But on your Earth you sleep before and after. You do not enter the Dreaming, you ride it instead. Tell me, Opener, where are you on your world?”
Peter had caught his breath. He felt calmer now, but also exhausted. This alien struck him as not so alien at all. Her manner, her interest in him, reminded Peter of a concerned grandparent. Without thinking he answered. “I’m at Penn… in my friend’s dorm… Josh’s new room.”
A wave of fatigue and nausea swept over him. His dizziness returned, but without the anxiety or panic.
“Do not fear, Opener,” the Carlysle reassured him. “The chronicles tell us it is always so in the beginning. You are gaining control. It will be much easier the next time, and less tiring.”
The words caught at him. “Control?” he said.
Fi-<click>-naro nodded, her creased face transforming into a huge smile. He noticed a blue ceramic wafer in her right hand that hadn’t been there earlier. The light began to dim and he heard his own voice talking. “I’m at Penn…”
And he was.
At ten minutes before midnight Agent Yampell’s helicopter landed at the Philadelphia airport. He transferred to a car waiting on the tarmac and had departed before the rotors had come to a stop .
A dozen unmarked cars had converged on the van carrying Dr. Nga’tok and the other Carlysle. Federal agents went through the motions of filling gas tanks and buying souvenirs and fast food at the rest stop. Yampell followed it all via radio, the logistics of the entire scene clear in his mind. The van had been parked for hours. He settled back in his seat and closed his eyes, mentally rehearsing what he would say to Nga’tok. The time for diplomatic niceties had passed. Yampell wanted some real answers. He wanted them in human time, not the ponderous, meandering molasses of Carlysle bullshit.
As his car headed for Delaware rest stop, Yampell checked in with his other field operatives. Meyerson had been returned and mollified. Greene’s apartment remained under surveillance. And another fifty agents scoured the entirety of the Temple University campus and its immediate surroundings; each carried a photograph of Greene and stopped anyone with even a remote resemblance.
Fi-<click>-naro’s slender fingers stroked the playback lines of the wafer. She smiled at the look of comprehension on Nga-<click>’s face.
“I’m at Penn… in my friend’s dorm,” the wafer said in Peter Greene’s voice “Josh’s new room.”
“Do you understand these terms?” she asked him.
Nga-<click> nodded, taking the wafer from his teacher and playing the recording again. The device he held was a perfect duplicate, as solid and substantial as the original in the Waking, the only world the humans understood. All that was about to change.
“He has taken up residence with one of his peers, a student at another school. The city he lives in is lush with academic settings.” Nga-<click> returned the wafer to his mentor. “Yampell is no doubt seeking the Opener in the wrong place. We have narrowed his location considerably, but it may not be enough.”
“Why not?” said Fi-<click>-naro. “You know the name of his companion. Surely the humans maintain records for locating their people much as we do.”
“We only have a partial name. A use name. And a common use name at that. Still, it is what we have, and I will make what I can of it.” Nga-<click> lifted his head, shrugging off the subordinate posture he had always shown before Fi-<click>-naro. “Assemble your council at the rendezvous point. If I am successful, if I manage to reach P’tar Gren, and to teach P’tar Gren, you will find him there.”
Nga-<click> closed his eyes and moved his awareness from the Dreaming to the Waking. He sat up in the back of the van. His assistant hovered nervously to his right. Nga-<click> reached for his datapadd and handed it to his aide.
“Ghem-<whirr>, tell the driver to head into Philadelphia. We’ll give him a more specific destination in a few minutes. Also, I need you to find out the name and home phone number of the President of the University of Pennsylvania. Get him on the phone now.”
“But Nga-<click>, the local time is one o’clock in the morning. Won’t he be asleep at this hour?”
“Probably. I don’t care. Make him want to see us. Tell him that a member of the Carlysle delegation has an urgent need to meet with him. That’s true enough. If that doesn’t interest him… tell him that a student at his university has stolen valuable cultural artifacts from the Carlysle. Convince him that if he provides us with some cooperation now, we hope to be able to avoid any bad publicity for himself and the school.”
Nga-<click> settled back again and closed his eyes. “Self interest,” he muttered to himself. “There’s a lesson here, Ghem-<whirr>. Despite their literature and their mythology, good intentions and moral codes, when dealing with humans always remember to start with self interest.”
Ghem-<whirr> nodded slightly, and went to instruct the driver.
Ten unmarked cars followed the van out from the rest stop; six eased into positions ahead of it. One by one the lead cars left the interstate, one car to each off–ramp, just in case the Carlysle chose to exit. When they didn’t, the departing vehicle returned to the highway and rejoined the pursuit.
Yampell rode in one of the trailing cars, radio in hand, supervising the operation and barking commands to the various drivers and other operatives.
The van crossed into Pennsylvania without incident, and continued into the heart of Philadelphia before leaving the interstate. Yampell’s people followed. At a little before two a.m. the van drove onto the campus of the University of Pennsylvania, and eventually came to a stop in front an administration building. Two other cars were already there, their drivers standing together in the cool night air. They stepped briskly toward the van, and gestured excitedly when the Carlysle emerged.
“All units, staggered passes,” Yampell issued the orders into his radio. “No one stops or slows appreciably or we’ll be made for certain. Finley, link up with campus security. Dazzle them with your IDs and make certain none of our people are stopped. Also, access their records. I want to know who owns those two cars, what goes on in that campus building, and any relationships either has to Nga’tok or Peter Green.”
As Yampell’s own car reached the end of the block, the two humans and the two Carlysle stepped into the building. The door closed behind them.
“You do realize this is all highly irregular, Dr. Nga-<click>,” said President Devereux. “Under normal circumstances…”
“Believe me, sir, I do understand,” Nga-<click> interrupted, surprised and pleased that the University President had correctly managed his name. “And I appreciate that you understand the highly irregular circumstances. I believe it is in both our best interests to resolve this matter quietly. Both yourself and Dean Burke have my sincerest apologies for rousing you in this manner, but the alternative is a media frenzy and embarrassing questions all around when the story breaks in the morning.”
They were huddled around a smallish desk in the Student Affairs offices. The Dean of Students sat before a flickering computer screen, working his way through a database.
“Give me a minute,” said Burke. “I rarely access this software myself.” He glanced up at Nga-<click>. “You’re sure you don’t have any more information I can use?”
Nga-<click> twitched his lips, then added the human gesture and shook his head. “Just the name. The one we seek is in the room assigned to an individual named Josh, somewhere in a new dormitory.”
“That’s the thing, doctor, we have a dozen college houses and residence halls here at Penn, housing over five thousand students. A first pass through the database lists more than fifty Josh’s. But give me a minute.”
“Dr. Nga-<click>, assuming we can find the room you’re looking for, just what do you intend?” asked President Deveruex quietly. “Delicate situation or not, the young man in question has certain rights. We can detain him for you, but…”
“I don’t think that will be necessary,” said Nga-<click>, interrupting the man again. “I wish only to speak with him. I suspect that’s all that will be necessary. If you are concerned, you may certainly accompany me, or send along a representative of your university police. But I would ask that you wait outside the room and let me speak with Mr. Greene alone. Otherwise both your national security and that of the Carlysle would be in jeopardy.”
“I have a match,” called out Dean Burke. “We don’t have a lot of people moving mid-semester, but there’s a Joshua Carpenter that transferred into the Gregory residence hall this week.”
“Thank you, Dean Burke,” said Nga-<click>. “President Deveruex, would you be so kind as to guide me to this Gregory place?”
The voice was followed by a series of loud knocks upon the door. “Joshua Carpenter?? This is campus security. Open the door, please.” More knocks.
Peter opened his eyes, squinting in the general direction of the door in the darkened room, then at the illuminated alarm clock above his friend’s desk. It was 2:37 in the morning. He looked back toward the door and could just make out the shape of Josh in his bed, slowly coming awake. Peter sat up in his sleeping bag and rubbed at his eyes.
The knocking stopped. After a moment’s pause, the door knob rattled, followed by the sound of a key sliding into place. The door flew open and light spilled in, silhouetting several figures. Flashlight beams pierced the room.
“That is him,” said a voice, crisp with an odd accent. “The one on the floor. The other presumably is Josh. If you wouldn’t mind, could you remove him to the hallway, while I speak with Mr. Greene?”
Peter attempted to stand up, trying to scramble to his feet while still half cocooned by the sleeping bag. One of the silhouettes detached from the group and stepped into the room. The outline included a nightstick and peaked cap, a cop of some type. Peter watched as the man grabbed Josh’s arm and hauled his dazed friend out of bed and toward the door while a second figure stepped in from the hallway, slamming it behind him. Peter heard a faint snapping sound and the sudden pungent odor of burning plastic.
The lights came on. A Carlysle stood by the door, one hand raised to the light switch, the other occupied with smearing an orange goop along the door jam. Peter knew this wasn’t a dream, he could always tell the difference between waking and dreaming. For additional proof, this Carlysle wasn’t dressed like the aliens in his dreams.
“Peter Greene, please listen to me, we have little time. You are the Opener, the first in centuries. Or more precisely, you will be.”
Peter disentangled himself from the sleeping bag and stood up. Someone pounded on the door again, but it sounded much more muffled this time. The alien ignored it.
“What are you talking about,” said Peter. “What’s going on?”
Nga-<click> smiled and spread his hands wide. “It’s about your dreams.”
“You know about my dreams?”
“Yes, Peter. And I can make them go away. Hear me out, and you’ll never have to dream about my people again.”
Peter nodded. He glanced at the door behind the Carlysle. The pounding grew more insistent.
“You have the potential to be what my people call an Opener, Peter. We live in two worlds, this physical world we both are in now, but also another world, which you think of as the world of dreams. In our dreams we can travel to other places, including our home planet, seeing people and things too distant for us to ever see in the waking world. But an Opener, Peter, has the power to go to these places while awake, somehow using the link between sleeping Carlysle and their forms in the dream world.”
“That’s crazy,” said Peter. “You’re telling me I’ve really been to your planet? That I wasn’t asleep? That it wasn’t a dream?”
“It started as a dream, because you don’t consciously know how to travel there while awake. But once arrived, yes, you were awake. It wasn’t a dream. All you lack is control, Peter. Until you have that, you’ll continue to be at the mercy of your dreams. With control, you’ll become an Opener and you won’t dream of us again, unless you choose to.”
The Carlysle took a polished grey disk from his pocket and held it out toward Peter. Light swirled above the disk, forming a blue-green sphere, a globe of some kind, displaying land masses and oceans. “This is the planet of the Carlysle. This is where you’ve been traveling to, Peter. Look at it closely. Do you see the large continent in the northern hemisphere? Does its shape remind you of anything?”
Peter stared at the globe of light floating above the Carlysle’s hand. The continent did look like something. “Like an animal,” said Peter. “Like… an anteater?”
“Exactly. We have nothing like that, but I have seen them in your zoos. Now, look at the snout of creature, there, to the west. It is a great peninsula, extending hundreds of miles into the sea. Near the tip it narrows. If the continent were an anteater, what part of the anteater would that tip be?”
“The tongue?” said Peter, not understanding at all. The pounding on the door had stopped.
“Just so,” said Nga-<click>. “At the tip of the tongue there is a city we name Tlarl, and at one edge of that city is a beautiful cliff which rises up from the sea. There is a platform there, at the top, and the view from it is awe–inspiring. I have been there many times, in the Dreaming. You should go there, Peter Green. The next time you find yourself falling asleep, choose to go there. Picture it, a vast railing of gleaming stone overlooking the raging sea on three sides. We call it Jatna’. Can you say that?”
“Jatna’,” repeated Peter. “But I don’t see…”
“Wait,” said the Carlysle, stepping closer and away from the door. “Do you have a favorite place? A place where I should go to visit? A place where I might stand, where others might stand as well? Here in this city?”
“I… I don’t know,” said Peter. “There are a lot of places like that here. This is Philadelphia.”
“What’s the first place that comes to your mind? Where would a tourist go?”
Peter frowned. “Umm… Where they keep the Liberty Bell, maybe.”
“That will be fine, I’m sure,” said Nga-<click>. “Then, after you have been to Jatna’ I will look for you at this bell.” With a gesture, he made the globe vanish, tossing the disk to Peter. He took another object from his pocket and pointed it at the door. The odor of burning plastic returned sharply.
Peter could now hear shouting beyond the door, angry voices, some of them calling his name. And then, just as suddenly and with no warning the alien threw himself at Peter, knocking them both to the ground.
“Yampell!” shouted Nga-<click>, “Help me. I can control him no longer.”
The door swung open with a crash and men dressed like those that had abducted Mr. Meyerson rushed into the room. One of them, shorter than the others and bearded, stood at the front, red–faced and glaring.
“Damn it, Nga’tok, what have you done?” shouted the man. He aimed a gun at Nga-<click> and fired, then fired a second time at Peter.
The alien’s body went limp and someone pulled him off. Peter’s hand rose to his chest, as he tried to sit up. His fingers closed around the feather vanes of the dart. He stared down at it in disbelief then lifted his head to look at the shooter. “You’re agent Yampell?” he said, recognizing the voice. His eyes rolled upwards and he slumped back.
Yampell grunted in satisfaction and shoved the tranquilizer gun back into its holster. Turning back to his agents he said, “Gather them up and take them to the car. Now.”
The darkness lifted, and Peter struggled to open his eyes. He was slumped in the back seat of a large town car, leaning against the passenger-side door. In a mirrored slump against the opposite door was the Carlysle who had at first seemed genuinely helpful, right up until the moment when it turned on him. Between them sat a man in a dark suit. There were also people in the front seat, at least two, but Peter’s eyes wouldn’t quite focus. His brain wouldn’t focus either. Just the intention of concentration left him exhausted. His head lolled back to the other side, and he glanced past the man in the suit and half squinted at the Carlysle again. He remembered the image of the alien globe with the anteater–shaped continent. “Jatna'” he murmured as his eyes slipped closed again, “I’ll go to Jatna’.” And just that easily, he did.
Nga-<click> dreamt himself to the Academy as soon as Yampell’s dart stripped him of consciousness. Several of Fi-<click>-naro’s senior students were waiting for him.
“You must get a message to Fi-<click>-naro for me, at once.” he said. “There are complications.”
One of the students stepped forward. “We are here for that purpose, Nga-<click>. Tell us what you need.”
“The Opener has been drugged,” said Nga-<click>. “A soporific has been injected into his bloodstream. I am uncertain of the amount, nor do I have sufficient comparative knowledge of our relative chemistries to estimate, though I suspect it lacks potency. Incapacitating the Opener does not fit in with the human Yampell’s plans.”
He paused and stared hard at the students. “Are any of you at Jatna’, now, in the Waking world?”
Two of them nodded and Nga-<click> sighed with relief. “Excellent. Then awaken and hurry to the dispensary. The Opener will need a strong stimulant to help him shrug off the effects of the other drug. If he remembers his instructions, he should have sufficient control to arrive at Jatna’ on his own. It could occur at any moment, and the sooner you have the stimulant prepared the better the chance of administering it while he is with us.”
An instant later one of the students had vanished, leaving behind the Dreaming for the Waking world.
“He is here, Fi-<click>-naro!” The voice was young and excited as it shouted from the far edge of the observation platform. Fi-<click>-naro had filled the area with her students, lining them up along the low, stone wall. She rushed to the waving student and the human he pointed at. P’tar Gren seemed barely awake, listless and unable to stand on his own. She could see that he had arrived in a slouch, practically pinning one of the students to the stone railing. Had Nga-<click> drugged him? she wondered. She pulled the Opener off the student, throwing one of his arms around her own neck, lifting him with a shoulder pressed under the arm.
“If he really an Opener?” Her students had gathered around. They stared in amazement at the human, and she imagined she could hear their excited thoughts. P’tar Gren, so like, so unlike, and an Opener besides.
“He is, but I fear he may be sick.” Fi-<click>-naro singled out a student with a nod of her head. “Shwe-vem, contact the Academy. I need to know if Nga-<click> is there in the Dreaming. He, if anyone, should know why the Opener is asleep. Run! Some of the rest of you, give me a hand with him. We need to carry him inside and make ready once Shwe-vem returns with an answer.”
“Sir? He’s gone! Greene is gone” The agent in back, who just a moment ago had been seated between Peter Greene and Dr. Nga-<click> pressed his hands helplessly against the corner of the upholstered bench. It was still warm.
Yampell glanced over his shoulder into the backseat. “Of course he’s gone, Johnson. That tranq dart would put anybody out for hours.”
“No, sir. I mean he’s really gone.” Johnson slid across the backseat, all but sitting on Nga-<click>. “He’s vanished.”
Turning fully in his seat, Yampell looked into the back and began to curse. “Turn around!” Yampell instructed the driver. “I don’t know how he could have slipped out, but he can’t have gone far. He’s got to be groggy from the tranq, we’ll find him.”
Nga-<click>’s eyes opened slowly, his lined and wrinkled face looked radiant. He experimented moving his lips, every command from his brain to his body felt so slow. “You won’t find him, Agent Yampell. He is indeed the Opener, and he is nowhere on your world.”
“What are you saying?” Yampell lunged diagonally, grabbing Nga-<click> by the lapels of his polyester coat. “Where else could he be?”
“Look for him at the Bell,” said Nga-<click>.
“The Bell?” said Yampell in disbelief. “What are you talking about? What does your precious Opener have to do with a bell?”
Nga-<click> shook his head. “It is fitting, no? The Opener will liberate the Carlysle. He himself chose the place. Look for him there, look for him at the Bell.”
“The Liberty Bell?” Yampell’s eyes widened.
“Just so,” whispered Nga-<click> as he slumped back, giving himself to the effects of the tranquilizing drug. For the first time in his life, he slept and did not enter the Dreaming.
Peter Greene opened his eyes and a shiver passed through him. The tables had turned. This time he was the one lying on some kind of slab, fresh from unconsciousness, and all around him, wide awake and alert, several dozen Carlysle stared down at him.
One of the aliens near the foot of his slab was speaking. He thought he recognized the voice, the voice of the woman in the amphitheater, Fi-… something. “Where am I?” he asked, then cringed at the triteness of his question.
Fi-<click>-naro spread her hands in a wide gesture. “You are resting in a pavilion a short distance from Jatna’, in the city of Tlarl, the continent we name Meskva, on the planet you would call the homeworld of the Carlysle.”
She paused, and it seemed to Peter that the silence was to give him time to make sense of what she’d said. That wasn’t going to happen. There was no rational way to account for his being here. It wasn’t like he was asleep, and just dreaming… Peter’s jaw dropped with the realization. He wasn’t dreaming. He could always tell, even in the dreams with the Carlysle, even if he wasn’t in control, he always knew he was dreaming. For the first time in his life he felt the other side of that certainty. He was awake. None of this was a dream.
“I’m on the Carlysle homeworld,” he said, softly.
“I was… in a car. There was a Carlysle next to me. He’d shown me a globe of his world. Told me of the view at Jatna’… And I came here.”
“You are the Opener,” said Fi-<click>-naro. The way she said it sounded to Peter like the way he would say the sky was blue or water was wet.
“What does that mean?”
“You have been a Traveler, a rare and wondrous thing to be. In your dreams you could wander where none of your race could go, bound by only one end of your journey. You would visit here, but always return to the place you left from. And you were always asleep. Now, you are awake. The Traveler is now the Opener.”
Peter sat up and shook his head, feeling some of the cobwebs slip away. “But what does that mean? I know I’m awake. But before, when I dreamed I was here, here on your world, when I woke up I was always back home.”
Fi-<click>-naro smiled. “And now you’re awake and here.”
“So how do I get home?” said Peter. He swung his legs off the slab and slowly got to his feet. “This isn’t a dream. How do I go back?”
“You are the Opener,” said Fi-<click>-naro. “You open a way. In the city of your own home, is there a place where you might stand, a place of history, where others might stand as well?”
“That sounds like what the Carlysle in Josh’s room said. Agent Yampell called him Nga’tok. He asked where a tourist would go.”
“Nga-<click>,” said Fi-<click>-naro. “Yes. What did you tell him?”
“The Liberty Bell,” said Peter, “downtown, in Old City.”
“Then picture that place, Opener. See it in your desire to be there, and open a way through.”
At three a.m. Liberty Plaza was all but deserted. Yampell had pulled his car up right next to the building itself and stood on the vehicle’s hood waving his arms and barking orders into his radio. Reinforcements had arrived. Barricades were being erected. The few stragglers, early risers, and homeless souls that had been nearby had been removed.
Nga-<click> sat against the front bumper of the car, facing the gleaming building that housed the Liberty Bell. He made no pretense of understanding its significance to this culture. What he thought of it didn’t matter, only that it had value to Peter Greene. Of the infinite possible places of his world, he had named this one. That was the way of things, binding the old with the new. Millennia ago, the last war fought among the Carlysle had ended with a treaty signed at Jatna’. Soon that place would acquire a new significance as well.
“Immunity or not, Nga’tok, I’m going to have your head on a pike when this is all over.” Yampell jumped down from the hood and glared at the alien.
Nga-<click> turned to gaze up at his unwitting collaborator. The starry sky formed a backdrop above Yampell’s head. “When this is all over, I hope to walk in places I’ve only dreamed of.” He grinned drunkenly, half from joy and half from the lingering effects of the dart. “Perhaps, perhaps you will even accompany me?”
Yampell shook his head. The man’s frustration and irritation was obvious, even to an alien.
“What was the point of all this, Nga’tok?” Yampell glanced down the length of the mall. “Why all this effort, working together for months to find you this Opener, and then when we do, you rabbit on us.”
Nga-<click> just shrugged, the smile still on his lips.
“I thought I understood you better,” said Yampell. He turned and looked at the Liberty Bell. “So, are you going to tell me then? How did Greene get out of the car without anyone seeing? And why he is going to be coming here?”
“Of course, Agent Yampell,” said Nga-<click>. He eased himself to his feet and regarded Yampell. “Peter Greene left the car in his sleep. He has been committing similar disappearances for months I believe. As to why he will come here? Two reasons: first, because he told me he would, and…”
A bright circle of light appeared some fifty feet in front of Liberty Plaza. One moment it hadn’t been there, and the next it was. The light was simply daylight, streaming in from early morning on the other side of the circle, on the other side of the galaxy. Peter Greene, followed by half a dozen Carlysle in pastel robes stepped through, blinking at the darkness on the mall.
“… and secondly,” finished Nga-<click>, as he pushed off from the car and went to meet his mentor, “secondly, because he can.”
Lawrence M. Schoen, Author/Publisher/Psychologist/Klingonist, holds a Ph.D. in cognitive psychology, currently works in the field of mental health and addictions treatment, and is a world authority on the Klingon language. He and his wife recently moved into a new house a short ways north of Philadelphia. Please do not send him a toaster.
Learn more at lawrencemschoen.com
Story © 2008 Lawrence M. Schoen. All other content copyright © 2008 ByrenLee Press
Art Director: Bonnie Brunish